Social harmony and religious coexistence are central to the DNA of Hinduism, which no political party can change
- Dr Satish K Kapoor
History shows that Hindutva never punished its scientists for holding views contrary to conventional religious beliefs, unlike in Europe
There is a strong feeling in some quarters that if the BJP comes to power in 2019 it would subvert the pluralistic model of Indian polity. This cannot be true in view of the millennia-old tolerant culture of Sanatan Dharma that has crystallised, in its present form, as Hinduism? Let us examine it.
History and Hinduism
Historically, Hindu way of life has been the most tolerant and accommodative of all religions providing refuge to tormented minority groups like Syrian Christians, Parsis or Jews in the past. It has no tradition of crusades, the inquisition or religious extermination as that of Waldenses, Lollards or Albigensis in Christianity. It does not bifurcate humanity into the Faithful and the Unfaithful, and command the former to overawe the latter through a holy war. Hindus are not known to have offered people a choice between embracing a particular belief-system or death. They have not burnt, sawn or bricked the members of other faiths alive; built pyramids of severed heads killed millions like guinea pigs for refusing to change their religion or indulged in systematic demolition of the abodes of worship of others, like some Muslim rulers of medieval India. Hindus never did to other faiths what the Spaniards did to the Muslims in the early seventeenth century by asking them to quit in three days.
The insularity of religious outlook foments intolerance that leads to emotional or subjective attachment to one’s own religion and a complete hostility towards others. This partisan attitude begets fanaticism—that sacred disease when zeal in religious matters outruns judgment. Hinduism, however, recognises the principle of unity in diversity. All religions are considered essentially in harmony with one another as per the Rigvedic saying (I.164.46): ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti—‘There is only one Real, but the wise speak of it variously.’
During its course of history the Hindu way of life has developed a pentagonal character:
1) It stands for a civilisation as old as mankind,
2) for a mosaic of cultures shaped in different historical milieus,
3) for a way of life,
4) for a social system with a radical framework for the conduct of life, and
5) for a wide variety of philosophic and religious schools and streams, each unique in itself and having its own raison d’etre.
Instead of being called a religion in the Semitic sense, Hindutva should be seen as dharma, in its comprehensive meaning of truth, righteousness and cosmic order. Hindutva, as faith, does not have doctrinal homogeneity but it represents continuity in man’s attempts to unfold the mystery of existence. Hindutva does not believe in a single revelation or in a divine plenipotentiary as an intermediary between God and man for all times since it professes that the Supreme Reality can reveal itself to any number of people. God cannot be patented or monopolised. Each mind can be awakened to the glory of the Supreme Being. Each soul can be illumined. Hindutva does not circumscribe God to one place, direction, body or configuration since He pervades everything.
History shows that Hindutva never punished its scientists for holding views contrary to the conventional religious beliefs, unlike in Europe when, during the Middle Ages, theological doctrines tried to eclipse scientific findings. Being open, flexible and adaptable, Hindutva has discarded outworn ideas and institutions, absorbed the best elements of fellow cultures and reinterpreted itself in changing milieus.
Sporadic incidents of ‘violence against minorities’ (viz. cow slaughter issue) are the handiwork of sick minds and cannot define a faith. Among the factors that provide wind to the sails of radical outfits are: religious conversions, minority politics to garner votes, denigration of Hindutva by pseudo-secularists, opposition to the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, the plight of nearly half a million Kashmiri Hindus living as refugees in their own country, the growing demographic imbalance between communities, and so on.
If BJP comes to power, it may like to address some of the above issues but cannot ‘talibanise’ the country. Reason: Social harmony and religious coexistence are central to the DNA of Hindutva, which no political party can change.
(The writer is former British Council Scholar in history at SOAS, University of London and is presently based in Canada)